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The Friend Zone - Nature vs. Nuture

I have written this article before on various platforms, and a few more prominent bloggers picked it up. However, I feel that I need to cover the topic again. The last time it ruffled some feathers (see what I did there?), it will probably do so again.

New parrot owners might not be aware of a critical component when bringing home a feathered companion. Birds are not domesticated. Cats and Dogs have been domesticated as companion animals for hundreds of generations and years. Birds, however, are nowhere near that. Dogs have the drive to please their owner. Cats, well, we all know cats are different animals altogether. Birds are like you plucked them off a tree in the jungles of South America. They are intelligent, yes. Does that make them easy pets? Nope. Birds have the instincts to eat, sleep, poop, drink, mate, preen, and make babies. They will do whatever else they must do in the middle of those things to accomplish the goals.

There has been a great debate since I got into exotic birds, which feels like eons ago. It is proven that parrots often create pair bonds with their owners, especially if they are given the right environment and circumstances. As Sophia Petrillo from Golden Girls would say, "Picture It," a parrot that gets cuddled and put into someone's hoodie or gets to sleep in bed with its owner. Let's analyze this. This bird is spending night and day with you, there is a physical touch on the erogenous zones, and you are reinforcing the facade you are its mate. This can lead to humping, chronic egg laying, biting, and, let me tell you about, jealousy. Ever seen a parrot go after someone's spouse because it was jealous? I have, and the guy almost lost a finger. One of the birds we rescued was a Congo called Cooper. Cooper was a LARGE Congo, and when we met him, the owner's husband was not allowed in the room if he was out of the cage. I have never seen so much aggression towards one human, and it was all because Cooper's pair bond was being threatened. However, Cooper's owner didn't know all of the things she was doing to contribute to all of these behaviors. Boxes, warm foods, an abundance of cuddling in a sweatshirt, "scritches" below the neck and stomach, and letting him preen her. There was a perfect storm of enforcers in this situation.

Food triggers happen too. Something as small as feeding your bird a warm bowl of oatmeal or something mushy can tell it, "yep, it's time to make babies, and I've just regurgitated for you." Sharing foods can also give the wrong impression. Watch paired birds in the wild, and tell me what you observe. Cuddling is another thing that can create a mate bond and also create sexual frustration and tension. As a parrot owner, it would be best not to touch your parrot below the neck. If you do, you are hitting its erogenous zones, and imagine getting all worked up with no release or follow-through. Also, suppose your beloved feathered friend is not the only bird in the house, and you are cuddling both. This could lead to aggressive behavior because two birds view you as their mate, and the other isn't willing to share. You will have problems.

I had a client who I worked with for training, nutrition, and other tips. He would provide his Congo with beer boxes because she loved to chew them. She then began plucking. Why.... because there were too many things happening. He offered her nesting materials and a place to nest, immediately telling her she needed to make babies. He then allowed her to play in boxes, go in the back corner, and biologically get ready for mating. When I asked why he continued to do it, he said, "well, she likes it," and my response was, "who is responsible for keeping her healthy and safe? You are."

Remember, hormones can be dangerous and cause permanent issues in your bird's life. We have a new Timneh who was added to the flock. I can not hold her for 30 seconds before she becomes hormonal and starts to try and mate with my hand. We later discovered this was a reinforced behavior because former owners thought it was cute, and she was cuddling.

We are working with her to break the cycle of humping behavior and ensure she has daily hormone tea, especially in spring. Birds pluck out of sexual frustration all the time, and sometimes there is no going back. And let me be clear. You will NOT see it coming.

While I have you here, I will also throw this out there. Birds are not human. They are also not meant to be accessories. Not being a responsible owner forces them into dangerous situations for approval, attention, or validation. Period. If you want that, I suggest you have children. That's a joke...(kinda).

Remember, when it comes to owning parrots, you are the gatekeeper. You are responsible for taking on the task of making sure your feathered companion has the best life possible. That includes nutrition, hormones, caging, toys, environment, and the whole shebang. That's all you. It's also up to you to research and figure out how to do that, like reading blogs on the net, listening to podcasts, and weighing your bird's needs. The unfortunate part about birds is they are designed to hide just about everything until it rears their ugly head and presents itself as a behavioral issue.

Trust me, the MANY years in owning birds, just let your bird be a bird. You will be happier in the long run, and so will they.

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